Yesterday I attended the funeral of a colleague’s Dad. He was, as several of the tributes said, a fairly ordinary man: not spectacular in any particular achievement, just a caring family man, who worked hard all his life and was an upstanding member of the community.
His story led me to think not so much about values to die for, as values to live for.
I remember a phrase attributed to the poet Auden, ‘the long littleness of life.’
It is in the long littleness that we need values to live for. But this man’s story also shows that these values help us at the times when we need values to die for, too.
Alex Stewart was born in 1921. His mother died when he was three years old. He grew up during the years of the Great Depression. Like so many of his generation (including my parents), he had limited opportunity for schooling, but he approached all of life as an education. He was a keen reader all his days, and avidly interested in what was going on in the world.
His work and family were his primary world, and his faith was largely unspoken. He simply lived this way.
Friendship and loyalty to his mates were at the heart of his value system.
I quote now from the eulogy offered by another colleague:
" I asked the family to describe how they experienced Alex as a person. This is what they said:
- He was an honest straight-shooter with great integrity.
- A supportive father who worked on school committees, sometimes after they had left the school, and drove them to youth group and other activities.
- A quiet achiever, involved in all sorts of community activities.
- A good man, not flashy, a man of few words.
- A man with a good mind who read the paper from cover-to-cover and did the crosswords.
- A mad-keen Geelong supporter, so go Cats for this year’s flag – do it for Alex!
The last thing Alex would want would be a long sermon here, but I do want to say that so many of his qualities – goodness, kindness, gracious interest in others, hard work – are qualities of people who are in touch with God. He was a man of faith, he believed in what was right, but had no time for anything that smacked of hypocrisy. In many ways Alex fitted the archetypes of the little Aussie digger and the little Aussie battler; the digger thumbing his nose at pretentious authority and the battler embodying the values of simple and frugal living and valuing family life and community above the accumulation of possessions. These were values hammered out on the anvil of a great depression and a world war and the death of every person like Alex Stewart who embodies those values, leaves our whole community impoverished."
It is these last thoughts which really moved me. Here was a man like my own late parents. Here are the values by which that generation lived: not uniquely Australian, but surely values which epitomized our national character. And values which we have almost lost, as we have become besotted with ‘the economy’ as the measure of all things, as if the accumulation of things would in fact bring us meaning and life.
God help us! Help us to remember, before it is too late.
Thank God for this man, and all those like him.
We honour him only if we learn from what he had to learn, a very hard way, the values to live for.